THE return of face masks in classrooms and on-site testing at secondary schools has been welcomed by education leaders in Oxfordshire.

Both measures were introduced by the Government ahead of the return of students across the country this week, following the Christmas break.

Rob Pavey, headteacher at Cheney School in Headington, said masks would help lower the number of students catching Covid.

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He said: “For us, it makes no difference as we’d been using face masks in classrooms before Christmas.

“At a certain point, we have to go back to normal and treat it like the flu but when that point is coming, we don’t know.

“Omicron has a high transmission rate but is less deadly. Masks help with lowering the transmission rate.”

Despite recent struggles accessing lateral flow tests among the general public, Mr Pavey said placing orders before Christmas had avoided this particular matter.

“The supply of lateral flow tests is fine, we got a supply before the Christmas holidays,” he said.

“There’ll be no disruption to learning doing the tests, it’s an extra piece of work for us but the kids know what they’re doing.

“Masks and lateral flow testing are not a big problem, it’s a bit tedious and a bit of a pain but it won’t stop education.

“The thing that will stop education is staff absence.

“We’ve got a number of staff who are self-isolating and we had extended periods last term when between 10 and 20 per cent of staff were absent, but we managed it with cover.”

Oxford Mail: Cheney School in Headington. Picture: Jon LewisCheney School in Headington. Picture: Jon Lewis

The Ridgeway Education Trust oversees Didcot Girls’ School and St Birinus School – in addition to Sutton Courtenay CE Primary School and Didcot Sixth Form.

The trust’s executive headteacher Rachael Warwick said masks were detrimental in terms of communication in classrooms, but acknowledged their importance.

She said: “We were advised before the holidays to bring masks back in communal areas, so we were already doing that.

“It’s not great for the quality of dialogue in the classroom but we’re not scientists so we follow the advice from them and Public Health England.

“These are measures which will limit the number of cases, as our priority is keeping children in schools.”

Oxford Mail: Ridgeway Education Trust executive headteacher Rachael Warwick. Picture: David FlemingRidgeway Education Trust executive headteacher Rachael Warwick. Picture: David Fleming

Mrs Warwick also said lateral flow tests were accessible, and that staff absences posed a greater threat to schools.

She said: “Our supplies were ordered before the holidays and arrived before the end of term.

“While the public generally has struggled for tests, we have enough to give out to families so they can test twice a week at home.

“The real concern is the level of staff absences. I know colleagues in London who don’t have enough staff.”

Ian Corkin, Oxfordshire County Council’s chair of the people overview and scrutiny committee, added: “Schools were able to order and take in delivery of lateral flow tests before Christmas so they were ahead of the curve.

“It’s a burden on schools of course, to be wearing masks but keeping kids in education is so important.”